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Contents of article "July 2005"Saturday 2nd July
Tuesday 5th July
Thursday 7th July
Saturday 9th July
Sunday 10th July
Monday 11th July
Wednesday 20th July
Friday 22nd July
Sunday 24th July
Tuesday 26th July
Thursday 28th July
Saturday 2nd July
It hasn’t gone away! I woke up this morning and it was still there, staring at me. However, if you’re thinking about moving to France, and not sure of the kind of reception you’ll get from the locals, be reassured. My next door neighbours, Evelyne, Hubert and their two boys Tristan and Valentin turned up early with spades and wheelbarrows and have spent the day in a blistering heat, shifting stones and wheelbarrow loads of earth and the mountain IS shrinking. Slowly, but it’s shrinking. The gang of one and a half became the gang of six and made an enormous difference.
It’s Lulu’s birthday on the 16th July so we got him a trampoline. We couldn’t hide it as it was too big so we let him have it yesterday. With his two friends, Tristan and Valentin, he bounced his way through the whole day, ending up with aches and pains in muscles I haven’t even heard of. What fun! I love watching children laugh - it’s so completely innocent. The three of them have giggled and screamed non stop for the past 24 hours!
Tuesday 5th July
It rained yesterday - bliss! It watered the garden and the whole family as we sat outside laughing and soaking. Today, the weather is perfect - not too hot, not too cold with a light breeze playing in the leaves.
On Saturday, we went to the Bal de l’ASM at Prat de la Farga in Maureillas. Prat de la Farga is the big open space with bouledrome and parkland at the entrance to Maureillas coming from Céret. (You might have noticed, if you’ve visited the region recently, that there are a lot of ’prats’ around here!) There are some fabulous walks from there too and plenty of parking space. The walks are indicated on a large sign in the carpark although we didn’t find them very easy to follow. The ’fete’ was a cacophony of light and sound and a representation of all the generations. Young and old danced, ate and drank together under the stars. The children are much more disposed over here to spending an evening with parents/adults and aren’t ashamed to be seen out and about with Mum and Dad (apart from Lulu who asked me not to dance as I stood out from the crowd due to my lack of rhythm and inhibition - a lethal combination!
I got my own back on him however the next day when, after a 3am finish during which the whole village must have rocked to the beat, like it or not, he surrendered to the sandman in the car on the way to Perpignan. Photo opportunity or what!
I’m going back to the UK for a few days next week, dropping Lulu off at his grandparents near Paris on the way. It’s so easy with the cheap airlines. We’re actually flying from Girona to Paris where Mamie and Papie will pick up Lulu, then I’m going on to Leeds. Same for the return and the whole thing cost less the £200 for the two of us. If we had driven, it would have cost us that in petrol and motorway tolls just to get to Paris and back. Girona is very easy to get to - just off the A9 to Barcelona - and only 40 minutes away. If you want to book flights there, don’t be confused by the name. It is officially Girona-Barcelona which is quite confusing as it’s a long way from Barcelona! There again, I’m easily confused.
Thursday 7th July
The wall is really coming along thanks to neighbours and good friends who have all mucked in and helped. We are very, very lucky. We have some friends who live in Les Cluses, near Le Perthus and they have been fantastic, helping us out with the wall, despite all the work they have to do in their own garden. Tonight is La fete de la Bière in Maureillas so we’re going down there for mussels and beers - it feels a bit like a curry night in England. Curry and beer - I’m used to. Mussels and beer - I’ll let you know! Once the festival season starts around here, there’s something on every night. On Saturday, there is a big festival in Céret which is known throughout the region as a day and night of lively eating, drinking and fun. Starting off with the market in the morning, which tends to be much bigger than usual as the festival attracts such crowds, the festivities continue through the day, with a bull run through the streets and a corrida or bullfight to the death in the bull ring in the evening. Try as I might, I cannot bring myself to see this important element of catalan culture and tradition as anything but inhumane, wholesale slaughter of innocent animals. I will not be going to the fight but will be going to the festival - I hope I am able to seperate the two in my head. I find it quite upsetting to think of something like this going on just round the corner while I am eating, drinking and living.
Saturday 9th July
"Just because it’s a beer festival, it doesn’t mean that you are obliged to drink excessive amounts of beer" said my husband. But it IS a beer festival and one MUST get into the spirit of the occasion, I felt! So I did! Another evening of drinking, dancing and chatting - festivals are just a part of life here - instead of going ’down the pub’ we go ’down the festival’ Today in Céret, the festivities continue. I have no photos as it was so packed that I couldn’t see anything over the crowds and completely missed the calves being herded through the streets by the cowboys. I was assured that these little chaps were just for show and would be returned to their Mums by nightfall. I will be going back tonight for the evening session although I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to it. My friend Hubert said to wear trainers and old clothes. Why? Because you get your feet trodden on and wine and sangria poured all over you by careless drinkers who are packed together in the streets like sardines, so clearly an evening to look forward to (not)
Sunday 10th July
Bulls are not the only animals to get slaughtered in Céret over the féria weekend! Céret last night was a seething mass of bodies in various stages of undress, swaying and staggering, swilling down beer and pastis, wine and spirits, screaming, dancing, laughing, vomiting and peeing against walls - and generally having a great time! It seems to be the aim of the Céretan, from 16 to 70 years old, normally a measured and sober citizen, to get absolutely wasted over this particular festival weekend. I love to see people having a good time, but not when they’ve just lurched into me, poured pastis down my leg and are now peeing up against a nearby shop window!! (although I suppose it would have been worse if it had been the other way round!) All this went on until early this morning (by which time I had been tucked up in bed for several hours) and, after a couple of hours off for good behaviour, began again this morning at 10h00!
The difference between this and a similar type of event in England however, is that, funnily enough, it was all very good natured. No fights, no unpleasantness, no threatening or menacing behaviour, lots of smiling and hand shaking, kissing and please and thank you in between the vomiting and the peeing.
The tradition is to wear white and red with a red bandana or similar, so the whole weekend has been very colourful, although the white T shirts tended not to stay white for long.
This afternoon, as the festivities continued, we went back into Céret to watch the ’vachettes’ being run through the street by cowboys and cowgirls on horseback.
These calves, with bull horns on their heads, are herded back and forth amongst the crowds while brave and drunken spectators jump in front of them and try to grab the calf’s tail. One of these spectators, clearly very much the worse for wear and still clutching his glass of beer in a grubby paw, had his foot stood on by one of the horses and had to be carted off by the medics. What fun!
Tonight, the boys (Lulu and his two friends, Tristan and Valentin) have decided to carry on in the carnival spirit and have dressed up in strange clothes and wigs for no good reason other than they’re a little odd! And why not!
More festivals to come over the next weeks. Next Saturday is the ’sardinade’ in Maureillas at Prat de la Farga which is similar to Thursday’s ’mussels, chips and beer’ festival but this time it’s grilled sardines? Yummy. I must admit that I am getting a little ’festival bound’ and would quite like an evening off, but I don’t like to miss the photos opportunities or the good laugh that we always have once we are there.
Monday 11th July
I forgot to mention that yesterday morning we went into Le Perthus/La Jonquera to get petrol as it’s only a five minute drive. I totally take back what I said in May about Sunday in Le Perthus. It was absolutely packed and the traffic was horrendous. It took us nearly two hours to get there and back with a short stop at a supermarket and a long queue for petrol. In la Jonquera there is a buffet/eat-and-drink-as-much-as-you-like-for-12€ restaurant which is supposed to be very good for the price. There were queues all the way along the street at midday. Could it really be that good?
Today, we have the digger here, ridding us finally of the mountain of earth which has been an eyesore in the garden since we arrived. I can’t wait to see the garden once the pile of earth has gone, although the ’building site’ is now even worse, and dust and dirt are flying around merrily! The digger has also pulled down a wall which served no good purpose on the other side of the garden, and we are using the stones to fill in the trench around our new wall as they ensure good drainage.
Wednesday 20th July
Well, I’m back or at least I think I am! To get from Girona to Leeds, we managed to miss four planes. The first missed plane was from Girona. Having been delayed by Spanish lorry drivers on the motorway, who wanted to prove what clever boys they were by using up all the lanes and driving parallel with each other for about 30 minutes, we arrived at Girona airport 39 minutes before departure. Good ol’ Ryanair informed us that the checkout had been closed for a whole minute and would we like to pay another 150€ and come back tomorrow? This meant of course that I missed my connexion from Paris to Leeds and had to pay for that flight again too.
OK, that’s life - there are worse things that could happen. We turned up next morning for the flight which took off on time and as I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief, the captain informed us that we were unable to land at our Beauvais destination due to fog, but he would kindly drop us off at Charlesroi where a coach would zip us back to Beauvais in a jiffy. He omitted to mention of course that Charlesroi airport is in Belgium and that a ’jiffy’ from Brussels consisted of four and a half hours. I missed my flight from Paris for the second time in two days and had to pay for a third ticket to fly the next day! Honest - this is not an exert from Mr Bean - it’s true life!
It was lovely to see all my old friends again - close friends with whom I’m still in contact over here, colleagues, my favourite old slapper from school (it’s not an insult - I love her to bits but she would worry about me if I called her anything nice) and of course my dear Dad.
Leeds was very warm - quite uncomfortable with a different kind of heat from here - and the tension on the streets was palpable after the London bombings, as the murderers came from Leeds. Back here in my little corner of the world, I feel so protected from all the badness. I’m not saying nothing bad ever happens over here - a large majority of human beings seem to have a problem coping with peace, honesty and integrity so it is always there in the background - but it is not noticable round here. You do not feel the need to lower your eyes when you’re walking around town or worry about your children travelling a mile from school to home. As Edith Piaf said ’je ne regrette rien’ I’m exactly where I want to be.
Friday 22nd July
Well, life is getting back to normal after my airport adventure. The weather here is perfect - blue skies and a gentle breeze. It’s actually very hot in the sun but that’s OK because.....yes, we’ve got air conditioning! We had it installed last week and since I got back from the UK, we have done nothing but argue because Olivier and Lulu say that they are too cold and keep turning it down, so I turn it back up and they turn it back down and so it continues.... the fun never ends!
And now for the big news.
The swimming pool is full of water and ready to rumble! It took two days and 30 - 40 thousand litres to fill, using a hosepipe from the outside tap, so we’re really looking to getting our water bill this year. It’s going to be three to a bath for the rest of 2005! It looks fantastic and very tempting, but is spoilt by the soil and rubble surrounding it, as you can see from the photos. I haven’t tried it out yet as we’re waiting for some final touches to the pump and filter but I suspect it’s going to be quite difficult to keep clean while there is so much dust in the air. Could anybody introduce me to a fairy with a magic wand?
I’m giving tonight’s ’fete’ a miss in order to dry out and prepare myself for tomorrow’s kebab night. Last night, Tonton Roland came round with John, a relative over from America. John is a lovely guy, seriously into creating sculpture from total scrap (yes, I did say scrap), using iron, steel and other metals, and picks up bits of metal and useless bits of rubbish wherever he finds them! You can see his creations on www.giovannimeola.com Evelyne from next door wandered into our garden with a beer in her hand, to have a look at the pool, and of course I couldn’t let her drink alone! The boys were already here, Hubert wandered over to see where Eve had disappeared to, a friend popped in to say hello and the next thing we knew, it was 2am and all bottles were empty! You may now understand why I’m not going to the fete tonight!
Over the next few days, I will finish the photo guide to the building of the pool. I try to remain neutral as webmaster of this site as I don’t think it’s up to me to recommend or condemn, but I have to say that Europicine, the company who have built our pool, have been absolutely excellent. Punctual, polite, efficient (and regularly half naked as you will know if you have followed this blog) this is a pool company I would happily recommend to anyone.
Sunday 24th July
Maureillas las Illas, near Céret, may be only a one hoss village but don’t rule it out when you’re planning your holiday entertainment. Last night was fabulous! Food was pleasantly edible condsidering it was served up canteen-style to hundreds of people, the venue of Prats de la Farga was perfect, and the main attraction, the Fred Kohler Band was excellent. This was a sort of rock opera which lasted throughout the evening, with dancing, song, and great atmosphere. If you have the chance to go and see them, I would thoroughly recommend it. They will be playing in St Estève on the 3rd April, Salses-le-Chateau on the 4th Port Leucate on the 15th and Tautavel on the 25th to name but a few gigs. Watch out for the can-can. Absolutely wicked!
My evening actually started early when the Maureillas ’fete organising committee’ suddenly turned up ’chez nous’ on a float, with loud music playing through a speaker and lots of strange people dressed in Catalan flags! (I’d like to say that they came to visit due to my fame as webmaster of www.anglophone-direct.com but actually it’s because my friend and neighbour, Hubert, is a member of the committee) They threw themselves into our newly filled pool, leapt around like mad things on Lulu’s trampoline, emptied a bottle of pastis, and departed - leaving Olivier, who had no idea what was going on or who they were, staring after them speechless. This was in fact the Llevan de Taula, Catalan I think, and describing the idea of going round to the inhabitants of the village where a fete is taking place and asking for contributions for the festivities. I’ll let you know more precisely when I receive a reply from my catalan friend, Estève, as the gentleman who explained this to me, although very cute, was a little the worse for pastis!
Tuesday 26th July
It’s raining and I’m rather worried that the chic new pool is going to get wet. Should I cover it to prevent the grubby rainwater from polluting the clear blue ripples? Only joking - it’s not really clear blue any more as Bisou keeps falling in - not the brightest hairy beastie on the planet. She runs around the garden, gets her paws nice and muddy, then stands on the edge of the pool and tries to ’nut’ unwary swimmers as they glide by (and believe me, when you’re not expecting it, being butted on the bonce with a hairy snout can come as a bit of a shock!) Her problem is that she lacks balance and brain, a lethal combination leading to several panic situations as she can’t swim and has to be fished out each time!
Yesterday morning, I got breathalised! Pulling into Gifi carpark on the outskirts of Le Boulou, to look at some of their classy pool accessories (4€ for a lilo but you get what you pay for) the ’Gendarmerie Nationale’ were out in force. I believe that it was much to do with the festa major (three days of festivities over the weekend) which must have meant that a large percentage of locals and tourists alike, were still driving around the next morning with blood in their alcohol! Anyway, once the gendarme had cleverly assessed that 12 year old Lulu was not the driver, and had made his way round to the other side of the car (we are 66 registered but still right hand drive in order to confuse the police!) the conversation started off like this.
Gendarme: Bonjour (unsmiling)
Kate: Bonjour (smiling)
Gendarme: Gendarmerie Nationale (very unsmiling)
Kate: Enchanté! Kate (slightly giggly - holding out hand politely for hand shake)
Now I didn’t see the problem with introducing myself, but Lulu was cringing and the gendarme did not want to shake hands with me. How rude. Doesn’t he realise that he is in France and that it’s the custom? Instead he gave me a sealed plastic bag, asked me to open it, fit it to his appendage and blow in it. Unfortunately, by then I had a bit of a problem with the giggles, and the machine kept making the wrong noise, so he asked me to pull off the road, park up, and sent an older and hairier gendarme to try and shock me into blowing instead of sucking. Success - faced with the size and threatening stance of the hairy one, I managed to produce a large puff, proving myself to be sober, if slightly dizzy! What an adventure, spoilt by the fact that, when asked if they would remain there until I came back with my camera, they sent me packing!
Thursday 28th July
If you live here, or are on your way here for your holidays, avoid Le Boulou like the plague! (sorry Sue and Paul but don’t worry - we’ll sneak you down the back passages) The traffic passing both ways - direction Perpignan - Spain - Céret and back, is absolutely horrendous! The problem is that, other than the motorway, which is heavily constipated with lorries, this road is the only way into Spain via le Perthus, or to Céret, Amélie-les-Bains etc. This morning the queue along the road into le Perthus stretched from the spanish border in Le Perthus right back to Le Boulou - about 10 km! If you really want to go to Le perthus or further on into Spain, don’t have the bright idea of leaving early (unless you’re talking six in the morning) as everybody is having the same bright idea. The best time to go into Spain, or to cross Le Boulou, seems to be about 14h - 16h but I will continue to look into the matter (it makes me feel important)
The grapes in the vineyards are growing quickly now and already look good enough to eat. Cherry season in Céret is or course long gone, but the memory remains and the phantom cherryman has not been forgotten. However, other fruits are now taking over - wild figs abound and apricots, peaches and nectarines splash round dots of colour onto an arrid backcloth. I am seriously considering taking up my paint brush again but my entourage is working hard at discouraging me, in order to avoid the embarassment when visitors arrive and I say ’What do you think of this then?’ Fortunately, most of my family and friends love me enough to lie to me!
Dinner out at the chinese restaurant in Céret was pleasant as always. Reasonable choice and the 12€50 menu is very adequate - the boys certainly enjoyed it!